Monday, May 14, 2007

Interview: Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans

Contributing writer Daood recently sat down with Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans, the artistic director for Kittsville Youth Foundation Dance and Cultural Arts Program.

Daood: Hello Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans. I want to first congratulate you and the members of the Kittsville Youth Foundation for maintaining the vision!

Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans: Daood, thank you for your interest and appreciation of our organization, Kittsville Youth Foundation. Your kind of inquiry helps us to clarify and sustain our focus.

Daood: You started dancing with Eartha Kitt at the age of 12 at a dance studio in Beverly Hills. Could you share with us that experience and your relationship with Eartha Kitt?

Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans: My mother, Ella Evans, read about Ms. Kitt teaching dance as fitness for adults and she decided to take 12-year-old me. Since she did not drive, it was a long bus ride from 92nd and Stanford Ave. in South LA to Robertson Blvd. in Beverly Hills. I was the only child and African American in the class, but that did not deter my mother... She recognized the specialness in me being under the tutelage of Ms. Kitt and she knew I could handle it, even though I wanted to stay home and play with my friends. My Mom's gut instinct was always right on. She listened to what she saw in us more than to what we said. Eartha took to my mother and me right away. Immediately we became guests at her home and often she took us back home. I studied with Eartha for awhile and then she was off traveling across the country performing and I was doing what I loved to do; hanging out with my friends, whom I was not allowed to tell what I was doing. My mother was always pretty private and protective of things we did too until she felt it was 'safe' to share. This initial relationship with Ms. Kitt started in Beverly Hills, but after a break of a few years, at 16, through a newspaper article, I discovered she was teaching at the Mafundi Institute in Watts. This time I decided to get on the bus and go take her class. From this reconnection after studying and teaching at the final Watts location, Jordan Downs Housing Projects Recreation Center, she put me on scholarship with two renowned dance teachers, Claude Thompson, Jazz and Gene Marinaccio, Ballet. This was at The Rainbow Studios on Yucca and Vine in Hollywood. With lots of other steps in between, I eventually ended up understudying Ms. Kitt in the touring Broadway show of "Timbuktu!"

Daood: When did the passion for dance initially take place for you as a young girl?

Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans: The passion for dance took place for me when we started doing Kittsville in the Gymnasium/rec room at Jordan Downs. I loved the community that came from the projects and all over. I loved the Conga drumming of the late Modesto Duran and Lazaro Valdez. I am compelled to move when I here drums. Especially Cuban drumming, I loved that we had audience from the local to Eartha's friends and acquaintances as well as the media. I learned that I loved sharing my movement expression with an audience. I loved trying to match Ms Kitt's energy at the end of every class.

Daood: What is your historical perspective of the evolution of dance to the present?

Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans: What a big question. In some ways dance reflects the physical, psychological, emotional and cultural healing of a community. It often serves as a barometer. When we didn't have a common language for expressing and or understanding what was going on around us and within us, our music, also reflected through our movement, kept us connected to the real, the necessary, and often times the best in us. If we observe our youth, we discover all kinds of pictures; however if we put it all together, we see there is a lot of disjointedness, loudness, disregard for other, borrowing, mis-understanding and re-discovering of ancient movements, the brilliant, the phenomenal think dance continues to serve as a barometer of where we are and need to go; what we need to keep and to let go of. Today, more of us understand that movement belongs to everyone and it serves best, those who appreciate it.

Daood: Aside from the physical developments and learning how to dance, what other attributes and characteristics are nurtured and cultivated subsequently?

Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans: As I stated above, dance directs us on how to look at ourselves and others. It is an engaging mirror. It allows community, joy, and it shows historical development, often more truthfully than words.

Daood: Are there any current events in which we can look forward to attending this year?

Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans: We will have a culminating summer program that shares the activities the regularly attending students have been doing. The date is t be announced. Also, we are planning a Fund-raiser for Kittsville that will feature a tribute to Eartha Kitt.

Daood: Is there a website and phone number for more information such as children participation, organization donations and for people who would like to volunteer their services?

Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans: Our current workshops are Ballet, Hip Hop, Dunham/Modern Dance Technique and Capoeira (African/ Brazilian Martial Arts through dance). These classes are geared to students age 10 to 18, but adults are welcome to join in. The classes continue to be free (for the last 42 years) and registration is on-going. We are always looking for volunteers; so for this and more information go to and or email us at or

Daood: Before we start with my free lesson I would like to inform you that I know how to "Drop it like its Hot," and "Harlem Shuffle"….at the same time!

Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans: Well, we welcome your kind of skills and 'courage' in class. Bring it on!

Daood: It's been a pleasure and thank you!

Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans: It has taken me a long time to finally get to and through these questions. Once I got going, it was a pleasure, Thank you.


Anonymous said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this interview with Miss Evans. I believe she did a wonderful job of relaying how integral dance is not only as a form of entertainment but as a way of life.

Lynn said...

This is inspiring -- an important reminder of what we can accomplish with focus and practice. Carry on, Ms. Evans!